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Words Feb. 17

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“ Thus, the more insistently people bring Christianity into politics, the more political argument becomes a Christian hermeneutics. Does God say gays should be executed or married? ‘Spare the rod’ or ‘suffer the little children’?” It’s not entirely clear, but the writer here seems to be saying that spare the rod and suffer the little children are contradictory, as they would be if suffer carried its more common meaning of “feel pain.” But when Jesus said in Mark 10:14 “Suffer the little children to come into me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God,” He was using suffer to mean “allow.” Let the children come close, He was saying: Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in My sight. You’d think this would be fairly apparent in a country where most people are Christians and look to Jesus to give us a break, but there’ve been hundreds of TV documentaries and print-media articles on child abuse that include the phrase “suffer the little children” in the title. Usually it’s the viewer or reader who does the suffering, the unpleasant kind. Who you calling Herman Ootix? I think I’ve just been dabbling in hermeneutics. And not long ago, I couldn’t even spell it. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures. Say, I may be about ready to take on epistemology. Raymond C. Reed of Rockville, Md., writes, “Is the comparative being eclipsed by the superlative?” He sends an example from the Washington Post: “Favre again wasn’t the best quarterback on the field. Daunte Culpepper was.” Culpepper was the only other quarterback who played, Reed says. That being so, he was, strictly speaking, the better quarterback on the field. There would have to have been more than two for him to be the best. The rule is, when comparing two things, use the comparative adjective — better, in this case. When comparing three or more, use the superlative — best. (One notable exception comes to mind. We never say “Put your better foot forward.”) As to whether the superlative is replacing the comparative, we live in an age of superlatives, it seems. But the basic rule hasn’t changed. Yet.

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